One Good Question with Saku Tuominen: Next 100 Years of Finnish Education

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International Education / One Good Question

This post is part of a series of interviews with international educators, policy makers, and leaders titled “One Good Question.”  These interviews provide answers to my One Good Question (outlined in About) and uncover new questions about education’s impact on the future.

In what ways do our investments in education reveal our beliefs about the next generation’s role in the world?

What education expenditures tell us about Finland : we invest significantly in education because everyone in Finland feels it’s important.  However, the discussion we refuse to have is why ?  What is the essence of education, the purpose of schools?

In Finland, we love solid hard work, but we tend to be risk-averse in our work, reacting to crisis well, but not developing longer vision when systems function well.  I feel that even our Prime Minister should take the opportunity of our new curriculum to be visionary, and ask four essential questions to inform how we redesign education in our country :

  1. What are the skills kids should learn at school ?
  2. How should they learn those skills ?
  3. Who should be the people facilitating the learning process ? Is it teachers and teachers only ? What is the role of young people ? Old people ? Companies ? Parents ?
  4. Where should the learning take place ? Should it be only in schools ? In the city ? In the parks ? In society ? Via internet platforms ?

Based on the answers to these questions, then we should ask what governments, companies, and cities are responsible for doing to recreate our education ecosystem.

In your Scool project, you’ve identified the biggest need as helping schools change and providing platforms for change at the student, teacher, school, and system level. Why do you think it can be difficult for schools to adopt change?  What are the early learnings about where change is most impactful — at the student, teacher, classroom, school, or system level? 

In order for human beings to change, they must first believe that change is possible.  In this case, we must believe that we can change the way we educate and how our schools are structured. Then we have to have the courage, the mental toughness and resources to do the work of change.

We ask ourselves how we can be certain that the new things we try in schools will work. Well, the honest answer is that we don’t yet know, but how can we be certain that the things we do in schools today are relevant from the perspective of 2030 ? We don´t know that either. The best way to encourage change is to redefine failure.  We are trying new things and none of the outcomes are failure if we’re learning from the results.  In 2016, Finland will launch a new curriculum that includes freedom for teachers and schools to define teaching, but there has been no discussion about the evaluation system. This ambiguity fosters a disincentive to actually try anything new.  If schools or teachers take the freedom to teach curiosity and creativity, but then students are only measured on maths and physics, there’s an inherent tension.

With the Scool project, our mission is to help schools change.  Culturally, not enough Finns are risk-takers and entreprenuers.  Although the new curriculum encourages more teacher freedom, not all teachers are likely to exercise it.  We need to do a massive empowerment campaign for teachers, showing them that it’s great to take risks, to make « mistakes. »  The HundrED project of Scool is designed to support teachers risk-taking by giving them the best platforms to share new ideas and best practices in classrooms just like theirs.

During our site visits across Finland, we’ve been to schools that are doing amazing things with average budgets.  In one school, a teacher refuses to give any grades to any students, students themselves are giving the grades.  The biggest problem is that the best kids hesitate to give themselves the best grades that they deserve.  In another school, the teachers no longer purchase educational materials, and instead, they are creating their own with students.  Teachers help guide the content and the context for book-making about the topic of study.  In some instances, they may even sell the books to others as resources.  In a third school, students took responsibility for a bullying problem.  The school decided to take teachers completely out of the equation and gave the responsibility of solving this problem to the oldest students in the primary school. As a result of the student-led interventions, all of the difficulties disappeared.  This is the area that is getting me most excited.  Because if you can tell these stories of success within the same regular conditions, it gives more credit for other schools to try something new.  These three examples illustrate the essence of the future of schools : putting students at the center of problem-solving for their own learning.

What’s the key commonality in these schools ?  It’s like what happens in any great company—you have to have a great principal in place.  One teacher can make changes in one class, but over time it becomes more complicated.  It’s all about principal leadership, because they inspire teachers to try innovations, and then they celebrate and share the gains that teachers have made with the greater community.


Saku Tuominen

Saku Tuominen

Saku’s One Good Question : My question is an extremely boring one: What is the point of school ?  Once we answer that, then we can move on to the question of how to educate all youth.

 Saku Tuominen is co-founder and creative director of Idealist Group : Entrepreneur, innovator, creative director, executive producer, author, keynote speaker, curator, olive oil producer, right wing (in ice hockey). I dream and do. Idealist Group is a production company of ideas, a platform for everything I do. The mission of the company is to improve the world with bold ideas that are executed well. At the moment Idealist Group concentrates on three main areas: the future of education, office work and video.

The Author

Passionate about education reform, multilingualism, peace, diaspora dance forms, and intersectionality.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Year in Review: 10 Good Questions | One Good Question

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